Minutes online saves time

Several years ago, when resident Murray Craig had a conflict with the city council of Langley, a suburb of Vancouver, British Columbia, he turned to technology. He created software that enabled him to examine all of his city's public records quickly and thoroughly, make connections and prove that a couple of council members were abusing their power.

Now, Craig and the company he founded, eNeuralNet Inc., a California-based artificial intelligence software company, is parlaying that invention into a Web-based service that will allow individuals to quickly search through public records — mainly city and town council minutes from across the nation.

On Sept. 23, the company will launch the Minutes-n-Motion service and Web site (www.minutesnmotion.com) at San Francisco's City Hall. Greg Guss, a company spokesman, said San Francisco's council minutes and other public records for the past 12 years as well as similar public records of 10 other Bay Area communities would be available.

By mid-2003, the company hopes to have such records online from every municipality that has a population of 100,000 or more.

Guss said people would be able to easily search through council minutes to research the history of a piece of property, how an elected official voted on a particular issue, or, as in the case with Craig, try to hold representatives accountable.

Although many municipalities have posted such public records on the Web for free, the company is charging $9.95 per month for unlimited access. Guss said the service is aimed at public watchdog organizations, media and active residents who might jump at the chance to easily search through digital reams of public information.

"If you want to read every document from San Francisco, we estimated it'll take something like 20 years to read them," he said. But through the service, he said users can cut through all those documents by searching via name, address, bylaw, council member or company. When a hit occurs, users would view a source document, not just a summary, he said.

The company has been able to download most documents from municipal Web sites, but sometimes the company has requested local governments to send records. In the case of Oakland, Calif., the company itself is scanning minutes into digital form, Guss said.

In the future, the company is considering adding campaign finance information, Guss said.

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